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The Jesus Prayer – Its practice

December 29, 2007

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9. Its practice

I will tell you a little bit from my own experience about what I think will happen when you use this prayer. For I have tried many other, more complex, and more abstract ways to pray, and I have found them all less effective than this most childlike of all ways.

Perhaps the most shattering consequence of his real presence, which is brought about by invoking his name, is that we become unable to lie to ourselves any more. He is light, and wherever he inserts his lordship there is now an absolute necessity of honesty and a zero tolerance for any form of self-deception, self-congratulation, or self gratification, even those forms that felt necessary, natural, and almost innocent before. He is gentle, but he is light, and he simply does not and will not coexist with any darkness at all; either he casts it out, or it keeps him out.

This is the negative dimension of the fact that he is light. He subtracts our falsehoods. But he also adds his truth. The positive dimension is essentially a clarification of vision, of perspective, of “the big picture”. He does not (usually) give specific directions or instant solutions, but he always gives a clarification of our vision. (This usually happens gradually.)

Thus there is a positive side to even the negative point made above. For instance, he makes us men see how flawed and mixed our motives are even in such natural and spontaneous things as a look into the face of a beautiful woman. (Half of all the women in the world are beautiful to men, nearly all are beautiful when they smile, and all are beautiful all the time to God.) We find that there is something in this look that is his, and also something that is not from him but is from the world, the flesh, or the Enemy.

And yet this insight does not bring about a guilty despair but a happy humility. For it is a sign of his presence. He is the standard. When the plumb line is present, apparently straight lines show their inclination. And this is, of course, upsetting (how easily our lines incline!), but much more is it a cause of joy (it is he!). As John Wesley said, “The best thing is, God is with us.” Once we realize that, we have the secret of joy: simply to do all that is from his will with joy, because he is there, and what is not from his will do not do.

And when his light and our darkness, his straight and our crooked, are thus brought into relationship and warfare, we gain rather than lose, even if it is upsetting. It is like bringing in the Roto-Rooter man: the garbage becomes visible, but it also becomes removable. Before his light came in, our sin was just as much present but undetected. But he was not just as much present. So that is a gain. Furthermore, he is stronger than sin; he exorcises sin more than sin exorcises him. All we have to do is to give him a chance. Open the blinds, and light casts out darkness every time.

This new sense of vision or perspective that invoking his name brings about is most sharply perceived when we invoke his name upon our problems and complaints. The wordless message I seem to get most frequently is something like this: “There are things that are infinitely more important for you than these little problems. They are all little compared to me. In fact, most of what you think of as your problems are in fact your opportunities—opportunities for the really important thing, the ‘one thing needful’, your relationship with me. So get on with it. You don’t have much more time.” He is surprisingly brisk and unsentimental. He is a no-nonsense God.

Perhaps the most definite and ubiquitous sign of his real presence, and the clearest difference between the times when I invoke his name and the times when I do not, is the state of quiet, calm alertness that he brings. Usually, I am either calm or alert, not both. When I am calm, I am relaxed and ready for sleep; when I am alert, I am worried or agitated and ready for problems. His peace, however, is not sleepiness, and his alertness is not anxiety.

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